I’ve dined in some far-out places in Tokyo, but few match lunch at Cafe N3331 in the Akihabara section of Tokyo. The cafe is situated on a platform that sits right between two JR commuter rail lines, and as you can see in the above video, the trains come and go with amazing regularity. It’s a really fun, different dining environment, and the constantly-passing trains give the scene a lively sense of motion and movement. And the show never ends, as trains going in both directions pass by seemingly every ten minutes (as trains in Tokyo are wont to do).
I was lucky to catch the vid above, as it was rare to see two lines pass by going in opposite directions. It was a little noisy as the two trains passed by, but it’s all part of the experience. Thankfully, thick glass walls that line the outside deck greatly reduce the noise. Also, surprisingly, the deck did not shake as the train zipped by, as I thought it might. Good foundation! It’s an open-air ceiling/roof, so the place was cool on a hot day, but forget about outdoor dining when it rains. They also have indoor seating, but the experience isn’t nearly as impressive.
After going up a long staircase that showcases the building’s original brick and tile interior, you come upon the entrance to Cafe N3331. As you can see, it’s pretty narrow. Order at the counter where the guy in the baseball cap is standing, take a number, pick a table, sit back and enjoy the show. The staff brings your meal to you.
Lunch was decent and relaxing. It was around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and we had already put in an action-packed, energetic day, and it was warm, so a quick rest, a small bite and cold drinks were just what we had in mind.
The Japanese, of course, love tea in all of it’s incarnations, so finding iced tea on a hot day is easy. Iced coffee is also popular.
Lunch is served: tuna sandwiches, creamy cold soup and a little salad: perfect!
All in all, lunch with drinks cost around 2000 yen, which translates to $16 in US dollars. The yen is weak these days, especially when compared with the strong US dollar, so things seemed relatively cheaper than in my previous trips. It also seemed that every retail store was “tax free”, or at least 30% off, making it a good time to go shopping in Tokyo!
Cafe N3331 also has a nice interior, which was perfectly air-conditioned for a warm day. It seemed as if this was a popular place for locals to meet for a chat over drinks.
Cafe N331 is found on the roof above this impressive brick building, which also houses Maach ecute, a collection of interesting retail spaces, galleries, restaurants, and cafes inside in a converted train station. In fact, it’s in one of Tokyo’s oldest train stations, called Manseibashi, brought back to life in 2013 after being out of use since 1943. Part of the original station platform can be seen on the second floor, and original staircases dating from 1912 and 1935 have been preserved.
The interior of Maach is really cool, almost like an optical illusion. As well as being a retail area focusing on handmade, artisan crafts, fashion, and interior design and home goods, the building also hosts live music events, artists workshops and food tastings. Maach has it’s own cool little cafe, a tad overpriced but with a dark, sexy ambience not unlike a jazz club.
The above pic (courtesy of the cool website Designboom) gives a great view of Cafe N3331 and it’s vicinity. The stairway that leads up to Cafe N3331 is located on the side of the building opposite the waterway (which is the Kanda-gawa River, btw, one of many small rivers that cut through various parts of downtown Tokyo). I’ve indicated its location because it’s easy to pass it by. The sign for Cafe N3331 is inside the doors of the entrance and not on the outside, and we walked right past it a few times until we figured it out.
If you’re planning on visiting the popular Akihabara area, I highly recommend a visit to the Maatch ecute building and Cafe N3331. It’s a 4-minute walk from JR Akihabara Station or a 6-minute walk from JR Kanda Station/Ochanomizu Station on the JR Chuo Line. Look for the Big Apple Slot and Pachinko sign and you’re almost there.
Stroll along that side of the building while you’re there. There are a few cool wine/sake shops (offering samples!), Japanese and Western restaurants (mostly Italian, at least one Chinese), cafes, coffee roasters, and a clam ramen joint called Wheat and Olives that might have been amazing but we never found out as they we were closing just as we got there. Be aware that most of the these establishments close at 9 p.m. on weeknights, 8 o’clock p.m. on Sunday. The majority of businesses in this building are closed on Tuesday. Like almost all businesses in Tokyo, opening time is 11 a.m.
Of course, after visiting here, you’re literally steps from the heart of Akihabara, also known as Electric Town, one of Tokyo’s more colorful, fast-paced areas, and we’ll be going there in a future post!